Kafe Batwan By Sarsa Group– The First Modern Filipino Cafe in Manila

Kafe Batwan's contemporary interiors were inspired by the Anglo siblings' childhood in Negros. As you can see when I went on a Tuesday lunch, it was full house! And it just opened! (Tracie goes by TAD and if you look around, especially the bathroom, you will notice some of her artworks/ designs).
Some of the dishes at the new Kafe Batwan by Sarsa Group. Read more to find out about them!
Some of the dishes at the new Kafe Batwan by Sarsa Group. Read more to find out about them!

I still remember during our first meeting for Lifestyle Asia’s 27th Anniversary Gala last year, JP Anglo asked me, “Are you game if we prepare isol?” I remember furrowing my brows in thought and hesitating, unsure how guests from Philippine society, business and the diplomatic corps, dressed in their black ties and long gowns, would react upon being served chicken butt/ ass/ bum. And then I realized– why not– since we were already pushing the boundaries by having 5 chefs championing Filipino cuisine each prepare a course from their respective restaurants at a five-star hotel– why not push the boundaries even further?  “Let’s do it!” I told JP. And sure enough, he prepared his version of (Jollibee’s) Chicken Joy, which came in the form of a delicious Crispy Isol coated in rice flour, marinated in tuba served with Batwan gravy, which he popularized at his Sarsa Kitchen— and which we paired with a Chandon Shiraz for the evening. (Watch the making of the gala HERE— created by Emmy-award winning TV producer Mike Carandang– it’s very inspiring– and for those crushing on JP, you won’t be disappointed, hehe! :-D)

A flashback to Lifestyle Asia's 27th Anniversary Gala at the Raffles/ Fairmont Hotel: Anna Sobrepena, Robert Bolanos, Dedet dela Fuente, JP Anglo, Margarita Fores, Cheryl Tiu
A flashback to Lifestyle Asia’s 27th Anniversary Gala at the Raffles/ Fairmont Hotel: Editor in chief Anna Sobrepena and myself along with our five rockstar chefs: Robert Bolanos, Dedet dela Fuente, JP Anglo and Margarita Fores, who each prepared a course for the evening

It’s exactly that kind of bravery, modern and forward-thinking-ness that has put JP at the forefront of Filipino cuisine today. Just a week ago, he opened the first modern Filipino cafe in Manila called Kafe Batwan, along with his sister and Sarsa Group co-founder Tracie Anglo-Dizon. In an interview with Click The City’s Bea Acosta, Tracie (who is currently in South America with A2A Safaris) revealed that the concept came from her when she was living abroad. “I said, wouldn’t it be great how in Singapore there’d be kopitiams, and other places have their quintessential cafes–if here in the Philippines we could have a contemporary one? The idea really just started from there, and then I started talking to my brother.”

Kafe Batwan's contemporary interiors were inspired by the Anglo siblings' childhood in Negros. As you can see when I went on a Tuesday lunch, it was full house! And it just opened! (Tracie goes by TAD and if you look around, especially the bathroom, you will notice some of her artworks/ designs).
Kafe Batwan’s contemporary interiors were inspired by the Anglo siblings’ childhood in Negros. As you can see when I went on a Tuesday lunch, it was full house! And it just opened! (Tracie goes by TAD and if you look around, especially the bathroom, you will notice some of her artworks/ designs).

Kafe Batwan, named after the batwan (or batuan) fruit commonly used as a souring agent for Negrenses and especially by JP in his dishes (the crispy isol was an example!), has all the elements of a cafe: sandwiches, soups, salads, etc. which can be had individually– or for sharing. Although more streamlined, the food here is still comfortable and familiar but mixing local flavors and ingredients not done before.

Notice the batwan/ batuan (the little green fruit) in their logo
Notice the batwan/ batuan (the little green fruit) in their logo

For example, the Pancit Palabok (P295), which is normally cooked with shrimp, here is cooked in crab stock and crab fat, and served with crispy crablets, chicharon, sauteed squid and soft-boiled egg. Isaw, while traditionally pork or chicken intestines, here uses oxtail, tripe and lengua, in an appetizer dish very aptly called Nose to Tail Sticks (P320). Sauteed Prawns (P495) are turned into a kind of Filipino mole, mixed with bean sauce and sambal beans (using our humble monggo beans, and kidney beans for texture), of which you will taste hints of chocolate from the tablea mixed in. Batchoy Beef Ribs (P550) has a beautifully sweet finish from the soy muscovado sauce. And JP is on a mission to elevate batchoy to the level of the ramen, and he has on the menu his Super Batchoy (P450) that made waves during the recent Madrid Fusion Manila, which uses kurobota charsiu served in 12-hour soup stock.

Was actually never a fan of pancit palabok until this! While the traditional palabok is cooked with shrimp, at Kafe Batwan, it's cooked in crab fat, and topped with crablets, chicharon, sauteed squid and soft-boiled egg
Was actually never a fan of pancit palabok until this! While the traditional kind is cooked with shrimp, at Kafe Batwan, the Pancit Palabok is cooked in crab fat and crab stock, and topped with crablets, chicharon, sauteed squid and soft-boiled egg
Honestly never enjoyed intestines/ innards as much. The elevated isaw: Nose To Tail Sticks of Grilled Oxtrail, Tripe and Lengua with Tokwa't Baboy Glaze and Crushed Pili Nuts
Honestly never enjoyed intestines/ innards as much as these! The elevated isaw: Nose To Tail Sticks of Grilled Oxtrail, Tripe and Lengua with Tokwa’t Baboy Glaze and Crushed Pili Nuts. There are three sticks here, and each stick pierces all three.
The Sauteed Prawns with Mixed Bean Sauce and Sambal Beans is kind of like a Filipino mole
The Sauteed Prawns with Mixed Bean Sauce and Sambal Beans is kind of like a Filipino mole
And to counter the tad bit of spice of the prawns, the Batchoy Beef Ribs hints of sweetnessas it's topped with soy muscovado and served with batuan atchara.. delicious!
And to counter the tad bit of spice of the prawns, the Batchoy Beef Ribs hints of sweetnessas it’s topped with soy muscovado and served with batuan atchara.. It’s not so photogenic but it’s very good!

I enjoyed my visit at Kafe Batwan (and have likewise been hearing rave reviews from contemporaries and friends as well). JP doesn’t deviate from the quintessential flavors of the Philippines– and even presentation wise, while more streamlined, everything still looks and feels familiar– yet there’s an element of twist/ surprise even to Pinoys who have been eating Filipino food all their lives. This is what makes him and his Sarsa Group (to date, apart from Fort Bonifacio, they have expanded to Legaspi  Village and SM Mall of Asia) so successful.

My friend and fellow journalist/ foodie Hong Kong-based Chris Dwyer (also known as and I thoroughly enjoyed catching up over such a glorious feast! Congratulations Chef JP and Tracie!
My friend and fellow journalist/ foodie Hong Kong-based Chris Dwyer (check out his blog www.finefooddude.com) and I thoroughly enjoyed catching up over such a glorious feast! Congratulations Chef JP and Tracie!
How cool, my blog post made it to the glass wall of Kafe Batwan! My brother Charles sent me a picture of this. Thanks guys! <3
And… my blog post made it to the glass wall of Kafe Batwan! My brother Charles sent me a picture of this. Thanks guys! <3

Kafe Batwan by Sarsa Group is located at the ground floor of Joya Lofts & Tower (formerly Bistecca; just a little past Santi’s) at Rockwell, Makati. It  is open daily from 7 AM to 10:30 PM